Friday, February 27, 2015

Bill Mitchell on Greece versus the Troika and Eurozone

Bill Mitchell has a great post here analysing the recent events in Greece’s confrontation with the Troika and Eurozone:
Bill Mitchell, “Don’t mention the war! er the Troika …,” Billyblog, February 26, 2015
Bill Mitchell’s scathing assessment of recent events is rather difficult to disagree with, despite the brave face put on the agreement by many left-wing people. Yes, Greece may have “bought time” but, as Bill Mitchell says, if the Germans are unwilling to allow any substantive changes in economic policy in Greece now, why would they concede anything important four months from now?

I cannot resist adding my additional thoughts on this. James Galbraith’s essay defends Syriza here.

He says:
“There is no money in Greece; the government is bankrupt. Large-scale Keynesian policies were never on the table as they would necessarily imply exit – an expansionary policy in a new currency, with all the usual dangers.”
If that was so, then shouldn’t Syriza have been honest with the Greek public? Should they not have said: “there is no way to deliver on substantive promises to end austerity in Greece unless the Greek public is willing to accept the short-term pain of withdrawing from the Eurozone.”

Galbraith also tells us that now there is a new “spirit and dignity in Athens.” Well, that sounds nice, but I suspect it will not last very long without real action. Critics see the obvious here: the current agreement appears to mean nothing but more “austerity with a human face” for the Greeks. What substantive measures can Greece take to end the misery? What has been agreed seems to mean a weak or feeble recovery at best and at worst means more destruction of Greek businesses and, even worse, more grotesque destruction of the fabric of society. More women robbed of human dignity and forced to prostitute themselves to survive or support their families.

If Syriza basically allows all this to continue, how long before voters desert the left in Greece and move to the socially conservative, but economically interventionist right, perhaps even the ugly right?

Frankly, it may be that this bizarre, utopian commitment to the Eurozone amongst the mainstream European left will be the undoing of Europe. When the extremely ugly, vicious right or far right start winning in the polls, the left will have only itself to blame for the bloody mess.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

James Galbraith on the Greek Situation

James K. Galbraith is interviewed on the Greek situation, Yanis Varoufakis, and the Greek negotiations with the Eurogroup.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

My Links on the Deflation of 1873 to 1896

I’ve done a lot of research on the deflationary period from 1873 to 1896 in the Western world over the course of the last few months, and how this can be best explained by Post Keynesian economics. I also point to how the period had severe economic problems in contrast to the theories of the pro-deflation libertarian and Austrian schools, such as profit deflation, debt deflation, loss of business confidence, and in the UK an astonishing fall in and stagnation of investment.

My links on this subject are below:
“Libertarian Gold Standard Myths Never Die,” January 13, 2015.

“Neoclassical and Quantity Theory Explanations of the 1873–1896 Deflation,” January 7, 2015.

“More Evidence on the Profit Squeeze of 1873–1896,” January 5, 2015.

“UK Gross Domestic Fixed Capital Formation in the 1873 to 1896 Deflation,” December 18, 2014.

“Nominal Wage Rigidity in the US and the UK 1865/1880–1913,” December 16, 2014.

“Armitage-Smith on the Profit Deflation of the 1873–1896 Era,” December 15, 2014.

“UK Average Money Earnings 1880–1913,” December 14, 2014.

“UK Real Per Capita GDP 1830–1913,” December 13, 2014.

“British Money Wages in the 1873–1896 Deflation,” December 10, 2014.

“Saul’s The Myth of the Great Depression, 1873–1896,” December 8, 2014

“Alfred Marshall on the Deflation of 1873–1896,” October 14, 2014.

“UK Real GDP 1830–1918,” October 8, 2012.

“Robert Giffen on the Deflation of 1873–1896,” December 7, 2014.

“Alfred Marshall on Business Confidence,” December 3, 2014.

“Alfred Marshall on Wage Stickiness and Debt Deflation,” November 30, 2014.

“The Profit Deflation of the 1890s,” June 13, 2013.

“Alfred Marshall’s Judgement on the “Depression” of 1873–1896,” June 13, 2013.

“S. B. Saul on the Profit Deflation of the 1873–1896 Period,” June 14, 2013.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Automation and Robots in the News

Interesting news on the rise of automation and robots both in the West and in China:
Paul Davidson, “More robots coming to U.S. factories,” USA Today, February 10, 2015.

Georgina Prodhan, “China to have most robots in world by 2017,” Reuters, February 6, 2015.

Paul Wiseman, “Robots Replacing Human Factory Workers at Fast Pace,” Cio Today, February 22, 2015.
While only about 10% of manufacturing tasks in American factories are automated today, some think that this will rise to about 25% in about 2025, a decade from now. But, more importantly, what will the percentage be in 2035 and 2050? Presumably much higher.

The upside of this will be increased productivity and what has been dubbed “reshoring,” or the return of manufacturing to the Western world. If this happens on a large enough scale in the long run, that in turn means lower trade deficits and a larger manufacturing sector and output for nations with mass consumer markets in North America and Europe.

But we can’t see the full effects of this today and the downsides, partly because robotics has been – for a long time – an overrated field with many robots being just expensive frivolous toys. All that is changing, as anyone reading the news can see.

A lot of neoclassical economists and those under their influence see no problem with mass automation, but that is only because neoclassical economists is deeply flawed and mistaken in its core principles.

Economies run on orthodox neoclassical theory are likely to have chronic problems of insufficient aggregate demand and mass structural unemployment as automation in production soars and even service and white collar work can be done by artificial intelligence (AI).

Market economies have no effective and reliable tendency to full employment equilibrium, and there is no necessary reason to think that the issue of structural unemployment will be solved by markets.

Worse still, with the fall in prices and factor input costs, possible general price deflation could put downward pressure on wages in the future, which means debt deflationary problems as goods prices, wages, nominal debt and asset prices are grossly distorted in relation to one another.

In the late 19th century from 1873 to 1896, for example, there was a period of chronic deflation, probably caused to a great extent by positive supply shocks and technological advancement, but the effects on investment, confidence and the economy at large were deleterious (the evidence can be seen here, here, and here).

Economic policies will need to change in the future to reflect the realities of production by mass automation.

Government welfare will have be reconsidered, not as some safety net, but as a basic human right in an age of automation: in essence, everyone will need a basic guaranteed income from the state.

If you wish to work in addition to this, as no doubt many – and probably most – people will, and you cannot find work in the private sector, the traditional policy of Keynesian fiscal stimulus will become weaker and weaker in its effects as more and more work is done by machines and artificial intelligence.

Eventually, governments will need direct mass employment programs to create economically and socially useful work, e.g., in social services where real people can never really be displaced, and in education, sciences, research and development, or other services.

Perhaps I just haven’t read the literature well enough, but I am surprised that Post Keynesian economists haven’t taken these issues more seriously in their academic writing.

Steven Pinker on Human Language

Perhaps one of the important things that were inspired by Roman Jakobson’s Structuralism was Chomsky’s work on modern linguistics: namely, that there is a universal, biological basis to human language structure called universal grammar and also to language learning by children.

Steven Pinker in the video below discusses the basics of modern linguistics and explains Chomsky’s ideas of universal grammar.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Remembering Tony Benn (1925–2014)

The Old Labour politician Tony Benn (1925–2014) passed away last year, and the documentary below – which has its share of criticisms – is still a nice tribute to his life.

Tony Benn had a peculiar relationship to Keynesianism, however, though he did have amongst his advisers Francis Cripps, a heterodox Keynesian connected with Wynne Godley and the broader Post Keynesian tradition.

In the years after James Callaghan abandoned traditional post-WWII Keynesianism in 1976 with a rather shameless lie debunked here, Tony Benn pushed forward with a far more radical vision of socialist economics, including a plan for bank nationalisation and an activist industrial policy.

Callaghan, as one of the worst UK Labour leaders of the post-WWII era, had already taken Britain down the path of a pre-Thatcherite monetarism before Thatcher came into office, and Tony Benn had an alternative to that, but the Labour party leadership shunned it.

It is also often forgotten how hostile the press and Conservatives were to Benn by the 1970s, particularly by time of his opposition to Britain’s joining the European Common Market.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Greece promises to Balance Budget: What the hell just happened?

If you want a vision of the future of the Eurozone, imagine a boot stamping on a human face – forever.

That is the lesson to be drawn from the results of the meeting between EU finance ministers and Greece, the details of which can be read here:
Jim Armitage, “Greek bailout: Germany claims victory as Greece agrees four-month bailout extension,” Independent, 20 February, 2015.

Phillip Inman, “Greece deal is first step on the road back to austerity,” Guardian, 21 February 2015.

Jennifer Rankin and Helena Smith, “Eurozone chiefs strike deal to extend Greek bailout for four months,” Guardian, 21 February 2015.

Raoul Ruparel, “Greece bends to Eurozone will to find short-term agreement,” Open Europe, 20 February, 2015.
An official summary of the agreement can be found here. It makes grim reading.

The Germans already rejected Greece’s plan of a moratorium of six months on loans and an end to austerity measures.

Instead, a four-month extension of the bailout has been agreed, but Greece is widely seen to be committed to much the same austerity as before, and must explain by Monday what measures and reforms it will take and how these will be in accord with the terms of the bailout.

Here is a crucial aspect of the agreement:
“The Greek authorities reiterate their unequivocal commitment to honour their financial obligations to all their creditors fully and timely.

The Greek authorities have also committed to ensure the appropriate primary fiscal surpluses or financing proceeds required to guarantee debt sustainability in line with the November 2012 Eurogroup statement. The institutions will, for the 2015 primary surplus target, take the economic circumstances in 2015 into account.

In light of these commitments, we welcome that in a number of areas the Greek policy priorities can contribute to a strengthening and better implementation of the current arrangement. The Greek authorities commit to refrain from any rollback of measures and unilateral changes to the policies and structural reforms that would negatively impact fiscal targets, economic recovery or financial stability, as assessed by the institutions.”
“Eurogroup statement on Greece,” European Council, Council of the European Union, 20th February, 2015
What does Greece get in return? It gets more time to renegotiate the burden of its debt, it may be able to avoid pension cuts and VAT hikes, but will try to balance its budget by cracking down on tax evasion.

In other words, what has occurred is that Greece is committed to a balanced budget, just by bringing in more tax revenue. No serious fiscal expansion can be done under these terms.

People on the left may like to put a brave face on it, but what has happened is simple: it is plain for everyone to see that a nation’s democracy means virtually nothing under the Eurozone. Greece is being forced to into the same basic policy, but with some minor concessions, and, given how weak its position is, it may well be forced into capitulation, despite the election of Syriza.

What will anti-austerity parties around Europe learn from the fate of Greece?

Being Eurosceptic and anti-austerity is not enough. Any government that promises to remain within the EU can do nothing. The government has to credibly threaten to leave the EU, and maybe even take unilateral steps like suspending loan re-payments and implementing capital controls. The EU can clearly humiliate poor little Greece, but what happens when voters in Spain, Italy or even France act on their hatred of the austerity and their governments start to listen?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Greece versus the Eurozone

Some of the latest news can be read here:
Ben Chu, “Fears of a Greek exit from the euro rise as olive branch to creditors gets short shrift,” Independent, 19 February 2015.

Rose Troup Buchanan, “Greek bailout: Germany shatters hopes of deal after rejecting proposal for six-month loan extension,” Independent, 19 February, 2015.

Lamiat Sabin, “George Osborne warns of ‘full-blown crisis’ as Greece standoff with eurozone continues,” Independent, 20 February, 2015.

Bill Mitchell, “Friday lay day – Cave in or Trojan Horse?,” Billy Blog, February 20, 2015.
I recommend Bill Mitchell’s analysis in particular, who argues that even though Greece’s latest letter was a prima facie “cave in” the German Ministry of Finance still rejected it, apparently because they think it is a sly “Trojan horse.”

In essence, the Germans rejected Greece’s demand for a six-month loan extension. It remains to be seen what the formal EU reaction will be, as a meeting of the 19 Eurozone finance ministers is to be held today.

Without some kind of deal by 28 February, Greece’s government and its banking system could be thrown into chaos, and some think that this could be the trigger for a Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone. Already there are signs of an emerging general bank run on Greek banks.

Of course, the future is uncertain, and maybe things will be worked out. Behind the scenes, it sounds like some kind of deal will be hammered out by next week. But what kind of deal? Will it just be an end to extreme austerity and some type of mild stimulus for Greece? That will not be enough to repair the damage in Greece. It will just mean a mild recovery but mass unemployment for years on end. What is needed in Greece is a radical stimulus with large-scale public investment and social spending, all supported by the EU and with measures to prevent any balance of payments crisis (and, frankly, that is also needed throughout virtually the whole EU). The chances of the EU agreeing to this are so low as to be laughable.

And the fact is that even some mild sop to Greece won’t be enough to stem the rise of Euroskeptic, anti-Eurozone and even anti-EU parties across Europe. If Greece ends up (1) agreeing to accept austerity (with perhaps some cosmetic concessions by the EU) or (2) wins some concessions with a mildly expansionary policy, just imagine how this will look to European parties like the Spanish left-wing Podemos party. In case (1), they will conclude that no government that promises to remain within the EU can expect any real end to austerity unless they threaten to leave the EU and really mean it. Unless you are really prepared to accept the short-term pain of leaving and also seriously threaten to default on loans, expect no mercy. In case (2), is that good enough? Will parties like Podemos fold and accept nothing but mildly expansionary policy?

Some on the left think that the current developments in Greece might be the beginning of a movement to reform the EU and turn it into a “United States of Europe” with a central fiscal policy and Keynesian stimulus throughout the union. I fear this is an unrealistic and utopian fantasy.

More likely, the current Eurozone needs to collapse before something like a “United States of Europe” can be constructed.

James Galbraith is interviewed in the video below on Greek television on Varoufakis’ negotiations with the EU.

The European Central Bank (ECB) is reportedly making contingency plans for a Greek withdrawal from the Eurozone, which, they think, will be manageable. But the real question is: how probable does the ECB think an exit will be?

You can also get live updates on the Eurozone finance ministers’ meeting scheduled for today here.

Alan Musgrave on the Success of Sciences as an Argument for Realism

The Popperian Critical Rationalist philosopher Alan Musgrave points to the incredible success of the natural sciences in explaining the world, predicting the behaviour of the natural world, and in designing technologies that work so well. Why is this so? In essence, it is likely to be the result of science getting to be truth, or in some cases close to the truth, about objective reality.

Musgrave lays out the “miracle” argument for scientific realism:
Musgrave, Alan. 2006–2007. “The ‘Miracle Argument’ For Scientific Realism,” The Rutherford Journal 2
First, Musgrave sets out a Popperian version of inference to the best explanation, as the form of reasoning we must use to explain why the natural sciences are so successful.

The inference that it is rational to accept that there is an objective reality with objective truths follows via inference to the best explanation from the overwhelming reality that some scientific theories are extremely successful at explaining the world and doing things while some are worthless or almost completely worthless.

In essence, there if there wasn’t an objective reality with objective truths, the astonishing success of science would be (bizarrely) wholly accidental or some kind of miracle.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Lectures on Russian Formalism and Semiotics and Structuralism

Paul Fry gives two lectures in the videos below on (1) Russian Formalism and (2) the structuralist linguistics of Ferdinand de Saussure, and its influence on other disciplines, such as Structuralism, semiotics, hermeneutics, and New Criticism. These theories dominated literary criticism, social and cultural studies before the turn to Poststructuralism and Postmodernism from the late 1960s and 1970s.

For a long time, Structuralism was an approach to linguistics. Then it spread to literary theory and other disciplines.

Roman Jakobson (1896–1982) allied himself with the Russian formalists and then moved to Prague in 1920 and by 1926 was involved in founding the “Prague School” of linguistics, whose members were as follows:
Prague Linguistic Circle/School (1926– )
Roman Jakobson (1896–1982)
Nikolai Trubetzkoy (1890–1938)
Vilém Mathesius (1882–1945)
Jan Mukarovsky (1891–1975)
René Wellek (1903–1995)
Felix Vodicka (1909–1974)
Literary Structuralism seems to have begun in an important way in the Prague School. The formalists in Prague thought that literature and art in their historical development were governed by structural laws (Jackson 1991: 65): this sounds remarkably like the vulgar Marxist view of history as governed by necessary or “iron” laws.

This was a major flaw in Structuralism: the belief that just because human language has a formal structure (most famously described these days in Chomsky’s view of language as characterised by a “universal grammar” structure), that human history, literature or art must also have such an underlying semantical structure, when it does not.

Jakobson himself moved in 1939 to Denmark where a Copenhagen School (1931– ) also developed. Jakobson later went to New York and in 1941 met Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009), who introduced Structuralism into anthropology, and also Jacques Lacan (1901–1981), who introduced Structuralism into Freudian psychoanalysis.

It was Roman Jakobson’s version of formalist criticism, which developed de Saussure’s ideas, that led to mature Structuralism (Johnson 1992: 156). The video below reviews Roman Jakobson’s life and work.

The Structuralism inspired by Jakobson reached its apogee as a French intellectual movement in the 1960s. The major French Structuralists (or “Gang of Four”) were as follows:
Structuralist “Gang of Four”
Claude Lévi-Strauss (1908–2009)
Jacques Lacan (1901–1981)
Roland Barthes (1915–1980)
Michel Foucault (1920–1984)
To this list we can add the Marxist Louis Pierre Althusser (1918–1990).

The characteristics of French Structuralism by the 1960s were the rejection of (1) the idea of the correspondence theory of truth, and (2) the view that words refer to objects in the world (Olssen 2003: 190). In Structuralism, words are seen as referring to other words and they can have meaning by the differences between words. The Structuralists also devalued the notion of a self or subject as a rational being (Olssen 2003: 191).

Johnson (1992: 155) points to an important difference between Ferdinand de Saussure and the later Structuralists: de Saussure accepted the referential nature of language and how words can refer to objects, even though he emphasised that differentiation of “signs” is also an important element in reference (analytic philosophy does a much better job of describing this in terms of Frege’s theory of meaning with the emphasis on sense/intension versus reference/extension).

But the later Structuralists and Poststructuralists came to reject the object-directedness of language. This was a major flaw in their philosophy (Johnson 1992: 156).

It opened the floodgates to later nonsense such as the belief that the meaning of language is only determined by the internal relationship of signs, words, and texts to other signs, words, and texts. In its Poststructuralist height of folly in the work of Roland Barthes, it leads to the idea that we can ignore authors when doing literary criticism (Barthes 1977).

For good, critical accounts of Saussure and structuralism, see:
Merquior, Jose Guilherme. 1986. From Prague to Paris: A Critique of Structuralist and Post-Structuralist Thought. Verso, London.

Jackson, Leonard. 1991. The Poverty of Structuralism: Structuralist Theory and Literature. Longman, London.
Barthes, Roland. 1977. “Death of the Author,” in Image Music Text (trans. Stephen Heath). Fontana, London. 142–148.

Jackson, Leonard. 1991. The Poverty of Structuralism: Structuralist Theory and Literature. Longman, London.

Johnson, Gregory R. 1992. “Without Sense or Reference. J.G. Merquior’s From Prague to Park: A Critique of Structuralist and Post-Structuralist Thought,” Reason Papers 17: 153–160.

Merquior, Jose Guilherme. 1986. From Prague to Paris: A Critique of Structuralist and Post-Structuralist Thought. Verso, London.

Olssen, Mark. 2003. “Structuralism, Post-Structuralism, Neo-Liberalism: Assessing Foucault’s Legacy,” Journal of Education Policy 18.2: 189–202.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Foucault’s View of Truth

This is not easy to understand, since, like many Poststructuralists, Foucault’s writings are not always easy to interpret.

C. G. Prado has studied this question (Prado 2005 and 2010), and he concludes that (1) Foucault’s mature position was a rejection of ontological linguistic idealism, but that (2) he also accepted epistemological linguistic idealism (Prado 2010: 101–102). This is further clarified: Foucault thought objects can exist without language, but he did think that objects can only be objects of thought when there is a language in which objects are named and referred to (Prado 2010: 102).

Importantly, when Foucault was under the influence of structuralism and was engaged in his “archaeological” work he did accept the ontological linguistic idealist position, and he only repudiated irrealism when he became a Poststructuralist (Prado 2010: 102).

Frankly, this strongly implies that when Foucault wrote his major work on madness Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique [Madness and Unreason: History of Madness in the Classical Age] (1961) he was an adherent of ontological linguistic idealism.

Nevertheless, although he accepted a non-linguistic world when he became a Poststructuralist, Foucault thought that truth is not determined by an objective reality, but by the operation of power and power relations (Prado 2010: 103). It appears that, for Foucault, not even the natural sciences could have their propositions or theories made true by reality, so that he thought that all truth statements are merely linguistic and produced by power (Prado 2010: 103).

This is further analysed by Prado, who argues that Foucault actually had four views of truth, as follows:
(1) criterial truth, or how and why something is made true in a culture or within some field or discipline;

(2) constructivist truth, or how power produces truth: that is, how power makes sentences true by discourses and the promotion and sanctioning of these truths;

(3) the idea of perspectivist truth deriving from Nietzsche, although Foucault does not deny the existence of an objective reality. Instead, Foucault means that we cannot have descriptive completeness (Prado 2005: 87; Prado 2010: 104);

(3) experiential truth, which is supposed to be the difference involved in truth by investigation and truth by experience (Prado 2010: 104), and how some unusual or challenging experience can produce truth.
Foucault’s Poststructuralist view of truth, then, is that “truths” are the products of language as produced by power and power discourses, not by an objective reality independent of human power relations. Not even natural sciences produce truth statements determined by an objective reality. More than that we should not even aim at one true perspective determined by an objective reality (Prado 2005: 89).

Contrast Foucault’s views with Yanis Varoufakis’:
“First, postmodernists allow economics to parade as equally scientific as the natural sciences (albeit on the grounds that no discipline is truly scientific). They are right of course to think that all theory resembles religion, since it also seeks to give meaning to the practices and expectations of whole communities. However some theories are capable of transcending religion and approaching objectivity better than others. Nature’s habit of working independently of our beliefs about it means that the natural scientist can devise experiments which have the power disinterestedly to discard falsity and thus forge knowledge and progress.”
Varoufakis, Yanis. 2002. “Postmodernism: Conspiring with the Orthodoxy,” 10 June
Here are the crucial ideas:
(1) there is a real objective reality;

(2) some theories can approach objectivity about reality;

(3) the objective reality of nature allows us to test theories and “forge knowledge and progress.”
This view entails that objective reality can and does allow us to falsify some beliefs and theories and verify others and in the process move towards objective truth.

That is a view opposed to the views of Foucault on truth. I find it very difficult to see how Varoufakis could have endorsed Foucault’s ideas on truth.

Prado, C. G. 2005. Searle and Foucault on Truth. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge.

Prado, C. G. 2010. “Foucault, Davidson, and Interpretation,” in Timothy O’Leary and Christopher Falzon (eds.), Foucault and Philosophy. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, UK and Malden, MA. 99–117.

Varoufakis, Yanis. 2002. “Postmodernism: Conspiring with the Orthodoxy,” 10 June

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Bill Mitchell on Henry George and Georgism

Bill Mitchell subjects the economics of Henry George (1839–1897), author of Progress and Poverty (1879) and founder of Georgism, to an MMT critique here:
Bill Mitchell, “Henry George and MMT,” Billy Blog, February 17, 2015
The criticisms outlined here seem pretty convincing to me, particularly the way in which Henry George’s thinking was based on a gold standard mentality and how he came to be influenced by an absurd anti-government, libertarian ideology.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Yanis Varoufakis on Postmodernism and Economic Methodology

Yanis Varoufakis, now Finance Minister of Greece, some years ago wrote a fascinating book review (see Varoufakis 2002a) of Postmodernism, Economics and Knowledge (2001), an edited collection of essays many of which defend Postmodernist epistemology as applied to economic theory.

In his review of the book, Varoufakis launches into a devastating attack on Postmodernism as any sort of viable epistemology or method for economic science.

His critique is taken from an earlier article (Varoufakis 2002c), and an online version of this with its comments on Postmodernism can be read here. I quote below from the online article, as well as referring to the full review.

Now admittedly I do not know whether Mr Varoufakis continues to hold the views he expressed in his 2002 paper, but they are still excellent criticisms, and I have not seen anything that would lead me to think he has repudiated them.

First, Varoufakis notes how Postmodernism shuns any group of people who believe that they have found objective truths, since such experts are deemed to be “privileging” their own “metanarrative” at the expense of other people’s narratives (Varoufakis 2002a: 389).

Although Varoufakis sees some merit in many of the papers in Postmodernism, Economics and Knowledge (2001), including what looks like a very interesting one by Philip Mirowski (2002), nevertheless his verdict on Postmodernism is damning.

Varoufakis notes that strong and effective advocates of neoclassical economics have existed for years and long before Postmodernism (Varoufakis 2002: 392). The Postmodern method demands an utter rejection of the view that modern capitalist economies can be regarded as coherent systems, since this would be a “metanarrative” (Varoufakis 2002a: 392). The question arises (though Varoufakis himself does not pose it): how is that compatible with Post Keynesian economics?

Worse, according to Varoufakis, the Postmodernist method has “no future” (Varoufakis 2002a: 393).

Why? Varoufakis argues as follows:
“… despite its considerable oeuvre, postmodern criticisms of economics are doomed to shrivel and be absorbed by mainstream economics; the predator turning into unsuspecting prey. I risk this prediction for two reasons.

First, postmodernists allow economics to parade as equally scientific as the natural sciences (albeit on the grounds that no discipline is truly scientific). They are right of course to think that all theory resembles religion, since it also seeks to give meaning to the practices and expectations of whole communities. However some theories are capable of transcending religion and approaching objectivity better than others. Nature’s habit of working independently of our beliefs about it means that the natural scientist can devise experiments which have the power disinterestedly to discard falsity and thus forge knowledge and progress. Society, on the other hand, is corrupted to the very marrow of its bones by our collective beliefs about it, and can therefore provide no objective test of social theory (the latter being part of the very web of beliefs that society is made of). Thus social theory, unlike thermodynamics, is condemned to remain untestable, and stuck in the realm of opinion. Economics valiantly attempts to extricate itself from this fate with a touching commitment to mathematics but, sadly, it only ends up as a religion with equations.

Postmodernity errs in thinking of this as the inevitable failure of all Modernist enterprises. It lambastes economists’ churlish reliance on an Outer Wall of Algebra and an Inner Wall of Statistics but overlooks their success at never even coming close to the nature and the dynamics of contemporary capitalism, thus shielding the latter from rational criticism. But such is the fate of all idealisms which give language an existence independent of the material conditions of social life and reproduction. If only postmodernist critics understood theology and mathematics a little better! Perhaps they would have recognised in economics the greatest proof that Modernity is saturated with its negation.

Which brings me to the second part of the argument: Postmodernity not only lets neoclassical economics off the hook but, more worryingly, reinforces it copiously before dissolving into it. Consider what the postmodern rejection of metanarratives means at the individual level: It means the loss of any capacity to scrutinise one's private urges rationally on the basis of some collectively constructed notion (or metanarrative) of the Good. Stripped of those capacities, the individual fragments into a community of selves, a bundle of ordinal preferences, and ends up with no one self whose preferences those are. In this Empire of Ordinal Preference the only possible data that social theory can go to work with are the differences in individual whims and freely chosen identities. These data are then, courtesy of their ordinal properties, impossible to compare across persons (for this would require a metanarrative) or procure a view of capitalism as a system. Thus in a fully-fledged postmodern schema, social relations are confined to interplay, voluntarism, tolerance and exchange; society is the playground where the latter unfold; and discussions of the General Will, exploitation and developmental freedom make no sense. Does this all sound familiar?

If it does the reason is that neoclassical economics went down that alley decades ago. ….

For Oscar Wilde the supreme vice was shallowness. For Postmodernity this is the New Jerusalem. Its playfulness allowed it to thrive in the friendlier waters of literary and cultural studies at a time when ‘margins’ were becoming central and classical stuffiness was going out of fashion. But now postmodernists have entered shark-infested territory. Neoclassical economics, another purveyor of shallowness, threatens to bend them to its will, gain strength from them and subsequently reinforce hierarchies more oppressive and totalising than those the postmodernists set out initially to dismantle.”
Varoufakis, Yanis. 2002. “Postmodernism: Conspiring with the Orthodoxy,” 10 June
Ouch! Varoufakis is saying that Postmodernist criticisms of neoclassical theory, by the intellectual vacuity of Postmodernism, will subtly blend into neoclassical economics.

Varoufakis also commits himself to a reality that has objectivity, and presumably objective truths, to which science can approach in its testable and falsifiable hypotheses and theories.

And, says Varoufakis, current popular and academic movements to reform economics should reject Postmodernism:
“In recent years many dissident voices had to adapt themselves to postmodern-speak in an attempt to be 'included' on the postmodern bandwagon. The PAE [Post-Autistic Economics] movement must release such voices from this obligation. Social criticism of economics must reclaim an awareness that to reject the scientific status of economics is not to reject science in general or to espouse postmodernism.

Indeed irony and ambiguity were utilised, long before Postmodernity, by thinkers eager to come to what a more confident past once knew as the truth. To re-establish irony, ambiguity and indeterminateness in the discourse of economists would be a triumph of the spirit. But it would not be a postmodern turn. For the latter has no monopoly on an appreciation of the radical indeterminacy of social processes (as Hegel would be all too eager to remind us) or the importance of not taking our selves, and our theories, too seriously. On the contrary, Postmodernity undermines itself by offering Modernity’s most awful purveyor another means of extending its dominance. ….

The postmodern turn will be chosen by pseudo-dissidents whose prime interests lie in acquiring a chic image; one that the self-effacing postmodern criticism is good at imparting. The less fashionable option of working towards historically grounded knowledge will appeal to the truly ‘unreasonable’ dissidents; those driven by an unbending commitment to a rational transformation of society.”
Varoufakis, Yanis. 2002. “Postmodernism: Conspiring with the Orthodoxy,” 10 June
Bravo! We can add to this John King’s (2002: 195–196) observations that Postmodernist epistemology is incompatible with core Post Keynesian principles, such as objective reality and objective truth, and even something as basic as Nicholas Kaldor’s “stylised facts” about modern capitalist economies.

Cullenberg, Stephen, Amariglio, Jack and David Ruccio (eds.). 2001. Postmodernism, Economics and Knowledge. Routledge, London and New York.

King, J. E. 2002. A History of Post Keynesian Economics since 1936. Edward Elgar Publishing, Cheltenham, UK and Northampton, MA.

Mirowski, Philip. 2001. “Refusing the Gift,” in Stephen Cullenberg, Jack Amariglio, and David Ruccio (eds.). Postmodernism, Economics and Knowledge. Routledge, London and New York. 431–458.

Varoufakis, Yanis. 2002a. “Deconstructing Homo Economicus? Reflections on Postmodernity’s Encounter with Neoclassical Economics” (review of Postmodernism, Economics and Knowledge), Journal of Economic Methodology 9.3: 389–396.

Varoufakis, Yanis. 2002b. “Postmodernism: Conspiring with the Orthodoxy,” 10 June

Varoufakis, Yanis. 2002c. “Why Critics of Economics can Ill-afford the ‘Postmodern Turn,’” Post-Autistic Economics Review 13 (May 2): article 1.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Mises answers Robert Murphy on War Debt: Was Mises a Secret Keynesian?!

And, yes, before I get absurd comments below: the last question is facetious.

The issue is as follows. The Austrian economist Robert Murphy asks Keynesians a question about war and government bonds:
Robert P. Murphy, “A Sincere Question for the ‘We Owe It to Ourselves’ Camp,” Free Advice, 14 February, 2015.
The crucial questions Murphy asks are these:
“Why do governments issue savings bonds to their own citizens during wars?

To be sure, a Krugmanite would totally understand why a government in a wartime crisis would issue bonds to foreign capitalists in order to suck outside real resources into the country. But why–using the “we owe it to ourselves” mentality–would a government decide to finance a war through bonds issued to its own citizens, rather than levying higher taxes? Either way, the people alive “pay for” the war effort, right? The next generation as a whole is totally indifferent to whether they inherit $0 in government bonds or $1 trillion in government bonds, right?”
Robert P. Murphy, “A Sincere Question for the ‘We Owe It to Ourselves’ Camp,” Free Advice, 14 February, 2015.
Well, let that notorious socialist, statist, progressive fanatic Ludwig von Mises provide a provisional answer:
“A good case can be made out for short-term government debts under special conditions. Of course, the popular justification of war loans is nonsensical. All the materials needed for the conduct of a war must be provided by restriction of civilian consumption, by using up a part of the capital available and by working harder. The whole burden of warring falls upon the living generation. The coming generations are only affected to the extent to which, on account of the war expenditure, they will inherit less from those now living than they would have if no war had been fought. Financing a war through loans does not shift the burden to the sons and grandsons. It is merely a method of distributing the burden among the citizens. If the whole expenditure had to be provided by taxes, only those who have liquid funds could be approached. The rest of the people would not contribute adequately. Short-term loans can be instrumental in removing such inequalities, as they allow for a fair assessment on the owners of fixed capital.” (Mises 1998: 213).
I will come to the issue of why it is better to issue a certain amount of government debt in wartime below.

But, first of all, note how Mises clearly rejects the idea that government debt per se to finance war impoverishes future generations: “[f]inancing a war through loans does not shift the burden to the sons and grandsons.”

I suppose that sends chills down many Austrian spines, for Mises sounds like he was channelling Abba Lerner here (to least to some extent). As Abba Lerner said,
“A variant of the false analogy is the declaration that national debt puts an unfair burden on our children, who are thereby made to pay for our extravagances. Very few economists need to be reminded that if our children or grandchildren repay some of the national debt these payments will be made to our children or grandchildren and to nobody else. Taking them altogether they will no more be impoverished by making the repayments than they will be enriched by receiving them.” (Lerner 1948: 256).

“In attempts to discredit the argument that we owe the national debt to ourselves it is often pointed out that the ‘we’ does not consist of the same people as the ‘ourselves’. The benefits from interest payments on the national debt do not accrue to every individual in exactly the same degree as the damage done to him by the additional taxes made necessary. That is why it is not possible to repudiate the whole national debt without hurting anybody. While this is undoubtedly true, all it means is that some people will be better off and some people will be worse off. Such a redistribution of wealth is involved in every significant happening in our closely interrelated economy, in every invention or discovery or act of enterprise. If there is some good general reason for incurring debt, the redistribution can be ignored because we have no more reason for supposing that the new distribution is worse than the old one than for assuming the opposite. That the distribution will be different is no more an argument against national debt than it is an argument in favor of it.

8. The growth of national debt may not only make some people richer and some people poorer, but may increase the inequality of distribution. This is because richer people can buy more government bonds and so get more of the interest payments without incurring a proportionately heavier burden of the taxes. Most people would agree that this is bad. But it is no necessary effect of an increasing national debt. If the additional taxes are more progressive — more concentrated on the rich — than the additional holdings of government bonds, the effect will be to diminish the inequality of income and wealth.” (Lerner 1948: 260–261).
But to return to Mises, on p. 96 of Robert P. Murphy and Amadeus Gabriel’s Study Guide to Human Action. A Treatise on Economics: Scholar’s Edition (2008), they apparently were aware that Mises held a view like Lerner’s:
“On page 228, Mises critiques the popular claim that war bonds allow the costs of a war to be shunted onto future generations. This is silly because all of the tanks, bombers, etc. consumed by the war effort obviously come out of current production. Of course, a war impoverishes future generations, but only because they inherit a smaller stockpile of capital goods than they otherwise would have.” (Murphy and Gabriel 2008: 96).
Did Murphy forget what Mises also said in the same passage?

Mises also said this:
“Financing a war through loans does not shift the burden to the sons and grandsons. It is merely a method of distributing the burden among the citizens. If the whole expenditure had to be provided by taxes, only those who have liquid funds could be approached. The rest of the people would not contribute adequately. Short-term loans can be instrumental in removing such inequalities, as they allow for a fair assessment on the owners of fixed capital.” (Mises 1998: 213).
The meaning is not immediately clear, but we have some very good clarification from Mises’s earlier writings during WWI (Mises 2012 [1918]) as examined by Richard M. Ebeling:
“To give one more indication of Mises’s thinking on specific policy alternatives and choices, there is a passage in Human Action in which he says, rather cryptically in passing, that there may be good reasons under certain circumstances to fund some government spending through short-term borrowing. One only understands what he meant by this by reading a lecture he delivered in 1916 on the problem of funding the costs of the government's war expenses.

In this lecture, which is included in the forthcoming volume 1 of the Selected Writings of Ludwig von Mises, he praises the military successes of the Austrian army and the industriousness of Austrian businessmen in providing the manufactured goods required to fight the war. Mises reminds his listeners that borrowing does not enable the current generation to shift any part of the costs of a war to a future generation. Current consumption could only come out of current production, and this applied no less to consumption of finished goods designed for and used in war. Whether the war was financed by taxes or borrowing, the citizenry paid for it today by foregoing all that could have been produced and used if not for the war.

Then he explains to his audience what today often is referred to as the Ricardian equivalence theorem, named after the early 19th century British economist, David Ricardo. In his 1820 essay on the ‘Funding System,’ Ricardo argued that all that the borrowing option entailed was a decision whether to be taxed more in the present or more in the future, since all that was borrowed now would have to be paid back plus interest at a later date through future taxes; therefore in terms of their financial burden the two funding methods can be shown to be equivalent, under specified conditions. Ricardo, however, also pointed out that due to people’s perceptions and evaluations of costs in the present versus the future, they were rarely equivalent in their minds.

But Mises raised a different point in favor of certain benefits to debt financing for the government’s war expenditures. Many who would not have the liquid assets to pay lump-sum wartime taxes would either have to sell off less liquid properties to pay their tax obligation, or would have to borrow the required sum to pay the tax. In the first case, a sizeable number of citizens might have to liquidate properties more or less all at the same time to improve their cash positions, which would put exceptional downward pressure on the market prices of those assets. This would impose a financial loss on those forced to sell these properties and assets to the benefit of those who were able to buy them at prices that would not have been so abnormally low if not for the war and the need for ready cash to pay the tax obligation.

Secondly, to the extent that some citizens would need to borrow to cover their wartime tax payments, the private individual’s creditworthiness undoubtedly would be much lower than that of the government’s. As a consequence, the rates of interest these private individual's would have to pay would be noticeably higher than the rate at which the government could finance its borrowing. Thus, the interest burden from government borrowing that would have to be paid for out of future taxes would be less for the citizenry than the financial cost from them having to borrow the money in the present to cover all the costs of war through current taxation. Hence, it was both patriotic and cost-efficient, Mises said to those listening to his lecture, to buy war bonds in support of the war effort.

Thus, we find Ludwig von Mises explaining why, given the reality of government spending, under certain circumstances government deficit spending may be more desirable (from the taxpayers’ perspective) than a fully tax-funded balanced budget!”
Ebeling, Richard M. 2010. “The ‘Other’ Ludwig von Mises: Economic-Policy Advocate in an Interventionist World,” Mises Daily, March 26
So that was Mises’ view, and most of it seems quite reasonable to me, and one can refer to Mises’ essay “On Paying For the Costs of War and War Loans” (Mises 2012 [1918]) to see his views on this in full.

Post Keynesians would go much further than Mises, of course.

I suppose they would say the following:
(1) pure taxation has severe disadvantages for the reasons Mises notes, but also because the rich and ultra-rich will still be left with a lot of income and ability to consume goods. Given the problems of war, a mixture of taxation, bond issues, direct central bank purchasing of Treasury debts, rationing and wage and price controls is a better, fairer and more effective way to control consumption, finance deficits and to ensure that there is a just distribution of scarce wartime goods. In fact, this is what Western nations, by and large, did in WWII, and it worked well.

(2) Murphy asks:
“The next generation as a whole is totally indifferent to whether they inherit $0 in government bonds or $1 trillion in government bonds, right?”
Perhaps the next generation might be indifferent, but the current generation who live during the war are not indifferent.

Taxation takes spending power and reduces it permanently: bond issues allow repayment of spending power at a future date and offer a very safe asset in return for current abstinence from consumption. Obviously, wartime would require a very high and punishing level of pure taxation (if there were no bond issues at all), but the more bond issues a government can make, the less it needs to rely on excessive taxation. A policy of bond issues to current domestic citizens is a fairer and better method than pure taxation.

(3) following from (2), wartime bond issues – especially to the middle class and poor (via their bank and savings accounts) – have the great benefit of providing an asset that can provide spending power after a war: more spending on goods and services will create more aggregate demand and more investment and higher employment in the peacetime years that follow war. This is important since there may well be a danger of a collapse in aggregate demand. And in fact this is what happened after WWII in the US: when expectations had become optimistic, there was a private investment and consumption boom, which was in part fuelled by the drawing down of savings as corporations and businesses liquidated their bonds.

Even in WWI, Mises noted that a great deal of Austro-Hungarian state debt was held by poor classes:
“The war loans [sc. of Austria-Hungary] are in the hands of domestic creditors, and so are most of the older Austrian and Hungarian government loans. It is erroneous to assume that only rich capitalists own state obligations. Our government securities were not issued solely to the rich and wealthy segments of the population. Directly or indirectly, their owners are largely the poor and poorest. The assets of savings banks and cooperatives are mainly invested in government securities, so that even the smallest savers have a stake, via the savings banks, in the continued servicing of the government’s debts.” (Mises 2012 [1918]: 224)
So it is better to offer government bonds to banks and other financial institutions, at which the middle classes and poor hold their money, than hitting them all with punishing taxes. That is correct.

(4) Murphy asks:
“The level of the debt they inherit just affects the volume of the transfer payments among them, but can’t make the next generation poorer, right?”
It does not necessarily make them poorer in terms of real resources, unless, as Lerner notes (Lerner 1948: 256), foreigners own a lot of the debt and use their spending power to buy real resources in the future that reduce the domestic consumption of those resources.
Further Reading
“The Post-1945 Boom in America,” July 15, 2011.

“Why Did WWII Lift America Out of Depression?,” August 21, 2013.

“Mises on War Debt: Not What you would Expect,” May 9, 2013.

“Lerner on ‘The Burden of the National Debt,’” October 23, 2012.

Ebeling, Richard M. 2010. “The ‘Other’ Ludwig von Mises: Economic-Policy Advocate in an Interventionist World,” Mises Daily, March 26

Lerner, A. P. 1948. “The Burden of the National Debt,” in Lloyd A. Metzler et al. (eds.), Income, Employment and Public Policy, Essays in Honour of Alvin Hanson. W. W. Norton, New York. 255–275.

Mises, Ludwig von. 2008. Human Action: A Treatise on Economics. The Scholar’s Edition. Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.

Mises, Ludwig von. 2012 [1918]. “On Paying For the Costs of War and War Loans,” in Richard M. Ebeling (ed.), Selected Writings of Ludwig von Mises: Monetary and Economic Problems Before, During, and After the Great War (vol. 1). Liberty Fund, Indianapolis. 216–226.

Murphy, Robert P. and Amadeus Gabriel. 2008. Study Guide to Human Action. A Treatise on Economics: Scholar’s Edition. Ludwig von Mises Institute, Auburn, Ala.

Saturday, February 14, 2015

John Searle’s Argument for Objective Truth

Clear, simple and very powerful, and given by the analytic philosopher John Searle in an interview here:
“The problem that all these guys [namely, postmodernists and poststructuralists] have is that once you give me that first premise—that there is a reality that exists totally independently of us—then the other steps follow naturally. Step 1, external realism: You’ve got a real world that exists independently of human beings. And step 2: Words in the language can be used to refer to objects and states of affairs in that external reality. And then step 3: If 1 and 2 are right, then some organization of those words can state objective truth about that reality. Step 4 is we can have knowledge, objective knowledge, of that truth. At some point they have to resist that derivation, because then you’ve got this objectivity of knowledge and truth on which the Enlightenment vision rests, and that’s what they want to reject.”
Postrel, Steven R. and Edward Feser. 2000. “Reality Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle,” Reason (February)
As Searle points out, once we admit that there is an ordered reality independent of our thoughts about it, then language really can refer to reality. Many of our words, and the concepts they represent, do refer to objective things in reality, and clearly many concepts we have (signified by words or sounds) are constrained, limited and defined by reality. Or, as some analytic philosophers would say, language is isomorphic to thought (including concepts and ideas), and in turn language can indirectly correspond and refer to reality (Schwartz 2012: 182), as is also argued by modern linguists and in the discipline of evolutionary epistemology. Objective truth follows from the way language can describe or picture reality. This leads us directly to the most convincing theory of truth: the correspondence theory.

Moreover, note clearly how Searle’s argument works just as well if we adopt an idealist ontology, when we make the appropriate changes: for then the reality that objectively exists independently of our own subjective feelings or wishes or desires simply becomes the world of sensory experience created by Berkeley’s god or some “supermind.” In the world of sensory experience, we find a high degree of regularity, consistency and order. Berkeley’s “objects of perception” become those mental “objects and states of affairs” to which our words can refer and name.

Most of us, however, find the argument for indirect, physicalist realism more convincing than idealism and so argue for a real external world.

I often hear from advocates of Postmodernism that these views are “out of date” or “behind the times,” or few believe these ideas any more. As a matter of fact, most professional academic philosophers think objective truth and an external world are the most convincing views of epistemology and ontology.

A recent survey of 931 academic philosophers in 99 leading departments of philosophy around the world completed in 2009 gives us very good evidence on what most philosophers think (Bourget and Chalmers 2014).

We find in this survey that 81.6% of academic philosophers endorse or favour the arguments for the existence of an external world (Bourget and Chalmers 2014: 494). Only 4.3% would endorse some form of idealism (Bourget and Chalmers 2014: 494).

We also find that 64.9% still endorse or favour a valid analytic versus synthetic truth distinction and 71.1% accept the existence of real analytic a priori knowledge (Bourget and Chalmers 2014: 493).

Just because in what passes for “philosophy” down in the languages/literatures or cultural studies departments we find a lot of people who reject objective truth, it does mean professional philosophers have followed this path.

These findings are not a good argument for objective truth, of course. They are simply an interesting fact.

The idea of objective truth is justified by the good arguments and evidence in its favour, not ultimately by how many people believe it. Even if the majority people did not believe it, there would still be good arguments for it.

Bourget, D. and Chalmers, D. J. 2014. “What do Philosophers Believe?,” Philosophical Studies 170: 4 65–500.

Postrel, Steven R. and Edward Feser. 2000. “Reality Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle,” Reason (February)

Schwartz, Stephen P. 2012. A Brief History of Analytic Philosophy: From Russell to Rawls. Wiley-Blackwell, Chichester, UK.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Wynne Godley’s Prediction of the Failure of the Eurozone

It was made in The Observer, on 31 August, 1997 (Godley 1997), and you can see the crucial passage in the video below (the resolution/quality of the video may need to be increased).

This is actually what we see throughout much of Europe today (though admittedly many parties actively embrace neoliberal austerity too), and what I suspect Greece will discover as it attempts to end austerity and implement some kind of stimulus.

You can read Wynne Godley’s article here, and a good analysis of MMT predictions about the Eurozone here.

We are seeing the failure of the Eurozone not only in the anti-austerity Leftish parties like Syriza and Podemos, but also in right-wing parties like UKIP, the Danish People’s Party (DPP), and the French Front National (FN).

In a recent byelection for the French parliament, the Front National (FN) won the first round, and the French Socialist party only narrowly won the second round, with the National Front candidate taking about 49% per cent of the vote.

The real question: why do mindless left-wing parties continue to support the Eurozone and EU? Why not dismantle both and reconstruct a real progressive EU at some time in the future? Most of the new anti-austerity leftish parties like Syriza and Podemos are only somewhat Eurosceptic, and not clearly anti-EU.

Godley, Wynne. 1997. “Curried EMU – the Meal that Fails to Nourish,” The Observer, 31 August.

Thursday, February 12, 2015

A Documentary on Michel Foucault

For those interested, there is a video documentary on Michel Foucault below.

My assessment of Foucault’s work is the opposite of the positive one presented in this documentary. His extreme social constructivism, for example, and that of modern Postmodernism in general, is utterly refuted by modern science.

This documentary does at least have the virtue of allowing one of Foucault’s critics to speak. The one chosen is Camille Paglia, who has had some harsh things to say about Foucault’s scholarship over the years, such as his heavy borrowing from the work of Emile Durkheim without proper acknowledgement (Paglia 1991: 190).

Other criticisms are left out. For example, the fundamental ideas of Foucault’s grandiose theories are subject to withering criticism in José Guilherne Merquior’s excellent Foucault (London, 1991). The damaging historical evidence against his history of madness and asylums can be read in Roy Porter’s “Foucault’s Great Confinement” (Porter 1990).

But I will leave detailed criticisms of his theories for another time.

It is important to remember that Foucault’s intellectual life was divided into two phases: his (1) structuralist phase (including a period when he was a Marxist) and (2) his poststructuralist phase.

We can see this in his major works, which are as follows:
Structuralist Phase:
Foucault, Michel. 1954. Maladie mentale et personnalité (1st edn.). Presses universitaires de France, Paris.

Foucault, Michel. 1961. Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique. Plon, Paris. 673 p. (the best translation of this appears to be Foucault, Michel. 2006. History of Madness (ed. Jean Khalfa; trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa). Routledge, New York, from the 1972 Gallimard edition).

Foucault, Michel. 1962. Maladie mentale et personnalité (2nd rev. edn.). Presses universitaires de France, Paris. Presses universitaires de France, Paris = Foucault, Michel. 1976. Mental Illness and Psychology (trans. Alan Sheridan). Harper and Row, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1963. Raymond Roussel. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1986. Death and the Labyrinth: The World of Raymond Roussel (trans. Charles Ruas). Doubleday, Garden City, NY.

Foucault, Michel. 1963. Naissance de la clinique: une archéologie du regard médical . Presses universitaires de France, Paris. 212 p. = Foucault, Michel. 1973. The Birth of the Clinic (trans. Allan M. Sheridan). Pantheon, New York; and Foucault, Michel. 2003. The Birth of the Clinic: An Archaeology of Medical Perception (trans. Allan M. Sheridan). Routledge, London. 266 p.

Foucault, Michel. 1964. Folie et déraison: Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique [abridged version of Folie et déraison: histoire de la folie à l’âge classique 1961]. Union générale d’éditions, Paris. 308 p. = Foucault, Michel. 1965. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (trans. Richard Howard). Pantheon Books, New York. 299 p.; and Foucault, Michel. 2006. Madness and Civilization: A History of Insanity in the Age of Reason (trans. Richard Howard). Taylor & Francis, London and New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1966. Les mots et les choses. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1973. The Order of Things (trans. Alan Sheridan). Vintage, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1969. L’archéologie du savoir. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1972. The Archaeology of Knowledge (trans. Allan Sheridan). Harper and Row, New York.

Poststructuralist (or “Genealogical”) Phase:
Foucault, Michel. 1972. Histoire de la folie à l’âge classique [2nd edn.; new preface and appendices]. Gallimard, Paris. 613 p. = Foucault, Michel. 2006. History of Madness (ed. Jean Khalfa; trans. Jonathan Murphy and Jean Khalfa). Routledge, New York. 725 p.

Foucault, Michel. 1975. Surveiller et punir. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1977. Discipline and Punish (trans. Alan Sheridan). Pantheon, New York.

Foucault’s History of Sexuality:
Foucault, Michel. 1976. Histoire de la sexualité. 1. La volonté de savoir. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1978. The History of Sexuality. Volume 1. The Will to Knowledge. (trans. Robert Hurley). Penguin, London.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. Histoire de la sexualité. 2. L’usage des plaisirs. Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1985. The History of Sexuality. Volume 2. The Use of Pleasure (trans. Robert Hurley). Pantheon Books, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 1984. Histoire de la sexualité. 3. Le souci de soi.Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 1986. The History of Sexuality. Volume 3. The Care of the Self. Pantheon Books, New York.

Foucault, Michel. 2004. Naissance de la biopolitique: cours au Collège de France, 1978–1979 (ed. M. Senellart). Gallimard, Paris. = Foucault, Michel. 2008. The Birth of Biopolitics: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1978 –1979 (ed. by Michel Senellart and trans. Graham Burchell). Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke.
Foucault’s politics were peculiar. He was clearly influenced by Marxism, Freudianism, Nietzsche and structuralism (Sim 1996: 243), and at one point even joined the Communist party in 1950 and was a member for about a year (Mills 2003: 15; Gutting 2005: 24).

He seems to have repudiated Communism by 1962 when the second edition of his book Maladie mentale et personnalité was published and he eliminated some of the more important Marxist theory from it (Gutting 2005: 24–25). Nevertheless, his later work bares clear influences from Marxism too (Mills 2003: 15; Gutting 2005: 25), even if he maintained a vehement anti-Communism (Mills 2003: 15).

Critics of Foucault’s politics have countered that it was an infantile form of radicalism opposed to virtually everything done by those in power (Walzer 2002: 192). This led him to embarrassing positions: for example, this can be seen in Foucault’s naïve praise and support for the extreme fundamentalism that took over Iran in the revolution of 1979 (Mills 2003: 19).

Foucault was also influenced by structuralism. He was associated with the Structuralist writers who edited and published in the French journal Tel Quel (“As is”) for many years (Mills 2003: 26).

But like Derrida and Barthes Foucault broke with structuralism by the late 1960s and early 1970s. Foucault’s early works up to Les mots et les choses [The Order of Things] (1966) and L’archéologie du savoir [The Archaeology of Knowledge] (1969) are often seen to belong to his structuralist phase or quasi-structuralist phase. Some critics think L’archéologie du savoir [The Archaeology of Knowledge] marks his turn to Poststructuralism.

The works after 1969 are seen as part of Foucault’s Poststructuralist phase.

Some commentators appear to classify Foucault as a “post-Marxist” with strong left anarchist ideas (Sim 1996: 243–244), and this seems a reasonable assessment to me.

Brown, Stuart, Collinson, Diané and Robert Wilkinson. 1996. Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. Routledge, London and New York.

Dreyfus, Hubert L. and Paul Rabinow. 1983. Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics (2nd edn.). University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Gutting, Gary. 2005. Foucault: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press, Oxford, UK and New York.

Merquior, José Guilherme. 1991 Foucault (2nd edn.). Fontana, London.

Mills, Sara. 2003. Michel Foucault. Routledge, London and New York.

Paglia, Camille. 1991. “Junk Bonds and Corporate Raiders: Academe in the Hour of the Wolf,” Arion 1.2: 139–212.

Porter, Roy. 1990. “Foucault’s Great Confinement,” History of the Human Sciences 3: 47–54.

Sim, Stuart. 1996. “Foucault, Michel,” in Stuart Brown, Diané Collinson, and Robert Wilkinson, Biographical Dictionary of Twentieth-Century Philosophers. Routledge, London and New York. 244–242.

Walzer, Michael. 2002. The Company of Critics: Social Criticism and Political Commitment in the Twentieth Century. Basic Books, New York.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Elections in Europe to follow closely in 2015

With the Syriza victory in Greece, and questions about the stability of the Eurozone, there are four elections in Europe to look closely at this year:
(1) the general election in the United Kingdom on 7 May, 2015.

(2) the Spanish local elections to be held in May 2015.

(3) the Danish general elections of 14 September 2015.

(4) the Spanish general election on 20 December 2015.
In all these countries, there are Eurosceptic parties, which may do well in the 2015 elections.

Some are not as radical as others. For example, Syriza is currently committed to staying within the EU. But what if there is such opposition to any reform within the EU that they are driven to withdraw from the Eurozone?

What if there is a crisis set off by Greece? The Eurosceptic and anti-EU parties may do well as electorates become more and more concerned about instability in the EU. The merely Eurosceptic parties could become explicitly anti-European Union parties and even demand withdrawal from the EU.

In Spain, the left-wing Podemos party was only formed in 2014, but already did well in the European Parliament elections of 2014 and has soared in the Spanish polls, with one recent poll putting support for it at 27.7 percent of the vote. The Podemos party is opposed to austerity and has a “soft” Euroskepticism but is not anti-EU. An indicator of how Podemos may do in the general elections late in 2015 will be the Spanish regional and local elections in May this year.

Denmark is also due for a general election in September 2015. The right-wing Danish People’s Party (DPP) did very well in the 2014 European Parliament elections and won 27% of the vote, and its popularity seems to have risen. The Danish People’s Party is clearly a Eurosceptic party, but could be driven to even deeper opposition in the event of Eurozone crisis. At least one opinion poll at the end of last year put its support higher than any other party.

Finally, the United Kingdom is due for a general election on 7 May, 2015. The current British political landscape in early 2015 is a curious spectacle. The most important major and minor parties are the Labour party, Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, UK Independence Party (UKIP), and the Green Party of England and Wales.

In the general election of 2010, the UK was faced with the highly unusual outcome of a hung parliament, and at length it got a Tory-Liberal Democrat coalition government.

But what exactly will happen in 2015 is unclear. Some predict that Labour will return to government with a solid majority, or the Tories will. Or could it be that neither the Labour nor Conservative party will win a solid majority and another hung parliament will occur?

Some commentators predict that the right-wing UK Independence Party (UKIP) will do well in the approaching election. UKIP explicitly wishes to take the UK out of the EU and is opposed to mass immigration. Many people, conservative voters especially, seem to be in favour of these policies (some evidence here and here). On economics UKIP is essentially Thatcherite, and perhaps worse than the Tories.

But the crucial point is that UKIP is vehemently opposed to the EU, and far more than other Eurosceptic parties considered above. UKIP could steal Tory votes, and this could send the mainstream Tory party in Britain into an anti-EU stance as well.

We can easily see the level of hostility to the EU in UKIP in this video of its party leader Nigel Farage.

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Hysterical Hyperinflation Austrians – Still at it after all these Years

Proof below, from the indefatigable Peter Schiff, who, along with other Austrians, is also blessed with being impervious to empirical reality.

Apparently, the US is headed for currency collapse and hyperinflation in 2015, even though similar predictions failed to materialise in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 or 2014.

Meanwhile, in the real world, at the MIT Billion Prices Project, which gives us an independent measure of US inflation, we can see no spike in inflation, and in fact very low inflation with a disinflationary trend.

There is, furthermore, real fear that deflation might reappear in major Western economies in 2015, as can be seen here and here.

In my humble opinion, the real crisis in 2015 might come from the Eurozone, not the US, as the Greek renegotiation of debt and attempts to end austerity might throw that rotten neoliberal currency union into disarray.

Investors might flee to US bonds and assets, making the US a much more attractive place to put money in 2015. Needless to say, this would make any predictions of a US dollar collapse in 2015 absurd, but I suppose Austrians have never let good sense get in the way of another crazy doomsday prediction.

A Postmodernist Critique of Science

If you can call it a “critique,” that is.

From the postmodernist Sandra G. Harding’s The Science Question in Feminism (1986):
“One phenomenon feminist historians have focused on is the rape and torture metaphors in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon and others (e.g., Machiavelli) enthusiastic about the new scientific method. Traditional historians and philosophers have said that these metaphors are irrelevant to the real meanings and referents of scientific concepts held by those who used them and by the public for whom they wrote. But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton’s mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of inquiry and the kind of metaphysics the new theory supports. But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. Presumably these metaphors, too, had fruitful pragmatic, methodological, and metaphysical consequences for science. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton’ laws as ‘Newton’s rape manual’ as it is to call them ‘Newton’s mechanics’?” (Harding 1986: 113).
On the very next page of Harding’s book we are told that the heliocentric theory of the solar system was problematic in terms of its “gender symbolism” (Harding 1986: 114). Why? Because it displaced the older geocentric view that placed “mother earth” at the centre of the universe and put in its place the “masculine” sun (Harding 1986: 114). Make of that what you will.

Though many Postmodernists would tell us that basic standards of logic are just a “narrative” amongst other legitimate “narratives,” I would submit to you that the idea above is the logical culmination of a philosophy that says there is no objective truth, that texts cannot have a fixed meaning intended by the author, and that objective knowledge is impossible.

The result? We have a person telling us – apparently with a straight face – that it is just as meaningful and legitimate to refer to Newton’s Principia as “Newton’s rape manual.”

Is it even remotely convincing? No. There are apparently a few metaphors in Bacon about science taming nature that could be interpreted as rape metaphors (Soble 1998: 4). But why should Newton be tarred with the same brush as Bacon? As far as I am aware, there are no metaphors of rape in Newton’s Principia.

Even as some loose metaphor for “male” science taming or understanding “female” nature, the “Newton’s rape manual” comment insults the intelligence, and slanders the scientific method.

For those of you who would like a careful and rational expose of the Postmodernist abuse of science and the irrational hatred of science that can be found in modern Postmodernism, I direct you to these fine works:
Gross, Paul R. and Norman Levitt. 1994. Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science. Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore.

Sokal, Alan and Jean Bricmont. 1998. Fashionable Nonsense: Postmodern Intellectuals’ Abuse of Science. Picador, New York.

Koertge, Noretta. 1998. A House built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science. Oxford University Press, New York.
Finally, here are some reviews of Sokal and Bricmont (1998), a celebrated work:
Richard Dawkins, “Postmodernism Disrobed,”

Danny Yee. 1999. “Intellectual Impostures: Postmodern Philosophers’ Abuse of Science,”

John Sturrock. 1998. “Le pauvre Sokal,” London Review of Books 20.14 (16 July): 8–9.
Soble, Alan. 1998. “In Defense of Bacon,” in Noretta Koertge (ed.), A House built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science. Oxford University Press, New York. 195–215.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Postmodernism and Third World Progressive Movements

Aren’t you exaggerating the problems caused by Postmodernism? Isn’t it really kind of harmless? Defenders of Postmodernism might argue this.

Actually, no, I do not think so. The evidence strongly suggests it has had very bad effects on Third World progressive movements and social activism.

First, let us consider what (a younger!) Chomsky says in the video below about Postmodernism and the Third World.

So is there other evidence to back this up? Yes, we need only look at Nanda (1998).

Meera Nanda is an Indian historian and philosopher of science.

She points out that the postmodernist idea of “ethnoscience” – that the science that emerged from the West is only one “discourse” amongst many “discourses” and that are all are equally valid – makes for some extraordinarily anti-progressive and reactionary movements in the developing world, which do much to retard social progress and even harm people.

This, Nanda points out, can be seen in India. In fact, the ethnoscientific and cultural relativist ideas of postmodernism actually empower local traditional conservatives and religious fanatics and allow them to complain that criticisms of their attitudes to women or society as “ethnocentric” and “imperialistic” (Nanda 1998: 287).

Nanda points to utterly horrifying examples. A well-known Postmodernist has declared that mass vaccination in India against smallpox is an “affront to the local custom of variolation, which included inoculation with human smallpox matter accompanied by prayers to the goddess of smallpox” (Nanda 1998: 291). But all the evidence shows that this traditional method is “10 times more likely to actually cause the disease as compared to the modern vaccine” (Nanda 1998: 291). Effective vaccination based on Western medicine, so the Postmodernists claim, is just a “Western logocentric mode of thought” (Nanda 1998: 291).

Nanda relates how native Hindu nationalist and religious fundamentalist movements use the ideas of Postmodernism to defend village sorcerers against modern scientific medicine (Nanda 1998: 292).

One Indian political psychologist and social theorist Ashis Nandy has drawn on postmodernism and postcolonialism to defend some – shall we say? – eyebrow-raising ideas:
“True ‘patriots’ like Nandy have not even spared those who protested a recent incidence of widow immolation (sati), branding them as modernized Westernized elites who denigrate authentic folk practices (Nandy 1988). Not surprisingly, such nativist, antimodernist ideas have found a sympathetic audience among right‐wing Hindu fundamentalist parties (Nanda 1997b).”
This should send chills down your spine. It is the logical culmination – whether Postmodernists believe in logic or not – of saying there is no truth, no objective morality, and that all cultural “discourses” are equally valid.

Nanda, M. 1998. “The Epistemic Charity of the Social Constructivist Critics of Science and why the Third World should refuse the Offer,” in N. Koertge (ed.), A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths about Science. Oxford University Press, New York. 286–311.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Postmodernism: Its Family Tree and Origins

In my debates with people about Postmodernism, it sometimes strikes me that some people do not even properly understand who is and who is not a Poststructuralist and Postmodernist, or even the basic history of the movement.

So here is a diagram below of the major Poststructuralists and their Postmodernist and deconstructionist offshoots. It needs to be opened in its own window.

Furthermore, people seem to think my hostility to Postmodernism stems from not having read enough Postmodernist writing. On the contrary, I have read a great deal of the Postmodernist literature, not only while a undergraduate university student but also while a postgraduate – and even in later years after I got my degree. I even maintain an interest in the history of the movement, despite my rejection of it.

Let me give an account of Postmodernism’s origins.

Postmodernism is an outgrowth of “Poststructuralism,” an intellectual movement in France from the late 1960s and 1970s. This was a reaction against French Structuralism.

The early and big name Poststructuralists actually began as Structuralists, such as Jacques Lacan (1901–1981), Roland Barthes (1915–1980), and Michel Foucault (1920–1984).

If there was a seminal moment in the origin of the Poststructuralist movement, some people date it to a 1966 conference at Johns Hopkins University in which the French intellectuals Derrida, Barthes, and Lacan came to America and announced that they had turned against Structuralism.

Derrida gave a lecture at this conference later published as “Structure, Sign and Play in the Human Sciences” (Derrida 1978 [1967]; see also the conference proceedings Macksey and Donato 1972) which marked his break with Structuralism and the general turn towards Poststructuralism.

Roland Barthes’ later essay “The Death of the Author” (Barthes 1967; Barthes 1977) was another influential text of the early movement. In “The Death of the Author” Barthes essentially proclaimed that critics should divorce their study of a text from its author, and that a text is not a product of its author with a definite and fixed meaning intended by the author (see Barthes 1977: 146).

You think I am joking? Let Barthes speak for himself:
“Once the Author is removed, the claim to decipher a text becomes quite futile. To give a text an Author is to impose a limit on that text, to furnish it with a final signified, to close the writing. Such a conception suits criticism very well, the latter then allotting itself the important task of discovering the Author (or its hypostases: society, history, psyche, liberty) beneath the work: when the Author has been found, the text is ‘explained’ – victory to the critic. …. literature (it would be better from now on to say writing), by refusing to assign a ‘secret’, an ultimate meaning, to the text (and to the world as text), liberates what may be called an anti-theological activity, an activity that is truly revolutionary since to refuse to fix meaning is, in the end, to refuse God and his hypostases – reason, science, law” (Barthes 1977: 146).
In other words, let us ignore authors and pretend texts can mean anything. In the process, we can emancipate ourselves from “reason, science, [and] law.”

If this sounds like the infantile ranting, raving and posturing of a frustrated revolutionary and Marxist to you, I think you may well be right. Apparently Barthes was a former Marxist, and a lot of the original Poststructuralists were disillusioned communists, Stalinists and Maoists.

When their revolution of 1968 failed and they became disillusioned with Marxism, the French radical left turned to a type of philosophical and cultural radicalism. Conservative critics of Postmodernism have long suspected this (Scruton 1994a), and frankly I think they may be onto something.

Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” also contains such gems as this:
“The author is a modern figure, a product of our society insofar as, emerging from the Middle Ages with English empiricism, French rationalism and the personal faith of the Reformation, it discovered the prestige of the individual, of, as it is more nobly put, the ‘human person’. It is thus logical that in literature it should be this positivism, the epitome and culmination of capitalist ideology, which has attached the greatest importance to the ‘person’ of the author.” (Barthes 1977: 142–143).
Um, no, Mr Barthes, you bloody twit, texts had authors long before modern capitalism, and the ancient Greeks and Romans could attach the “greatest importance” to authors just as we do.

In my view, Barthes’ absurd theory – at the heart of modern Postmodernism – has done great damage to literary criticism. It is plainly wrong.

It allows lazy and ignorant literary criticism in which critics do not properly focus on the historical and cultural context in which a text was written – or on the biography of the author and what he meant to say. Instead, Postmodernism has produced a type of bizarre “literary criticism” in which Postmodernists torture texts to death and extract any and whatever meaning they like – no matter how patently ludicrous or crazy.

But let us move on with the origins of Postmodernism.

Jacques Derrida took Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” fantasies to even greater heights of mind-numbing insanity. Derrida invented the French word “différance” (a word that conveys the ideas of “difference” and “deferral”) to convey the idea that no word can even have a clear, definitive meaning at all: true and fixed meaning is supposed to be “deferred,” indeterminate, and unattainable (Roman 2001: 309; Scruton 1994b: 478).

Derrida also liked to rant about what he called “logocentrism,” the idea that in Western civilisation speech is “privileged” over writing (Roman 2001: 309). The fact that people who were literate were historically a small, privileged and even powerful minority in most Western societies did not seem to daunt or present Derrida with any problems. Nor did the fact that the ability to read the written word and even written works themselves like scriptures have conferred enormous power on priests, monks and clerics in Western civilisation. None of this gave the prize buffoon Derrida any pause.

Derrida’s famous method of Deconstruction is just the culmination of Barthes’ “The Death of the Author” idea. Since no text can have any fixed meaning, we can invent any meaning we like, and “deconstruct” any text by inventing a meaning contrary to what the text says. We can engage in utterly illogical, unfounded and fantastical attempts to show how any sentence actually implies or means the opposite, or nothing at all.

The end result of all this is the view that no real external reality structures, fixes or even circumscribes our words and language, and that no objective truth, knowledge or reality exists (Roman 2001: 310).

The ignorance and intellectual charlatanry of Derrida were revealed to the English-speaking world by the analytic philosopher John Searle, who, in debates in print with Derrida and other Postmodernists, demonstrated that Derrida had a wretched and ignorant understanding of the modern philosophy of language (Derrida 1977a; Searle 1977; Derrida 1977b), and how “deconstruction” results in nothing less than outright intellectual fraud (Searle 1983; Mackey and Searle 1984).

Later in his 2000 interview with Reason magazine, Searle also drew attention to Derrida’s shameful and despicably dishonest tactics in debate:
Reason: You’ve debated Richard Rorty and Jacques Derrida. Are they making bad arguments, or are they just being misread?

Searle: With Derrida, you can hardly misread him, because he's so obscure. Every time you say, ‘He says so and so,’ he always says, ‘You misunderstood me.’ But if you try to figure out the correct interpretation, then that’s not so easy. I once said this to Michel Foucault, who was more hostile to Derrida even than I am, and Foucault said that Derrida practiced the method of obscurantisme terroriste (terrorism of obscurantism). We were speaking French. And I said, ‘What the hell do you mean by that?’ And he said, ‘He writes so obscurely you can’t tell what he’s saying, that’s the obscurantism part, and then when you criticize him, he can always say, “You didn’t understand me; you’re an idiot.” That’s the terrorism part.’ And I like that. So I wrote an article about Derrida. I asked Michel if it was OK if I quoted that passage, and he said yes.”
Jacques Derrida’s deconstruction and Roland Barthes’ ideas on literary criticism have flowed into the heart of modern Postmodernism.

There are other strands, of course, and many heresies and mutations. The two most important strands stemming from the original French Poststructuralism are those of Jacques Lacan (1901–1981) and Michel Foucault (1920–1984).

The strand associated with Michel Foucault essentially boils down to the idea that “truth” is whatever those in power determine it to be, and reality a construct of power, so every instance of power is oppression. The other source of modern Postmodernism is the utter pseudo-science of Freudian psychology via Jacques Lacan and his Lacanian psychoanalytic quackery. However, I will leave an analysis of the work of Lacan and Foucault for another time.

The Poststructuralists and their ideas quickly spread to the rest of the Western world, principally via the humanities departments of universities. It has lead to the modern Postmodernism, postcolonialism, postfeminism, deconstruction, intertextuality studies, and postmodern cultural studies you find all over the academy today.

Curiously, the madness in the humanities and social sciences faculties of the academy today is really nothing new. Back in the late 19th century an equally absurd philosophy called Idealism dominated the philosophy departments of English-speaking universities. It was overthrown by analytic philosophy. Now few but historians of philosophy and Western thought have any interest in Idealism, and hopefully in a century hence very few will have any interest in the equally absurd philosophy of Postmodernism.

Barthes, Roland. 1967. “Death of the Author,” Aspen 5/6.

Barthes, Roland. 1977. “Death of the Author,” Image Music Text (trans. Stephen Heath). Fontana, London. 142–148.

Derrida, Jacques. 1977a. “Signature, Event, Context,” Glyph 1: 172–197.

Derrida, Jacques. 1977b. “Limited Inc.,” Glyph 2: 162–256.

Derrida, Jacques. 1978 [1967]. “Structure, Sign and Play in the Human Sciences,” in Writing and Difference (trans. Alan Bass). University of Chicago Press, Chicago. 278–294.

Mackey, Louis H. and John R. Searle. 1984. “An Exchange on Deconstruction,” New York Review of Books 31.1 (February 2): 47–48.

Macksey, Richard and Eugenio Donato (eds). 1972. The Structuralist Controversy: The Languages of Criticism and the Sciences of Man. Johns Hopkins, Baltimore.

Postrel, Steven R. and Edward Feser. 2000. “Reality Principles: An Interview with John R. Searle,” Reason (February)

Reynolds, Jack. “Jacques Derrida (1930–2004),” Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Roman, Denise. 2001. “Poststructuralism,” in Victor E. Taylor, and Charles E. Winquist. 2001. Encyclopedia of Postmodernism. Routledge, London and New York. 308–310.

Scruton, Roger. 1994a. “Upon Nothing,” Philosophical Investigations 17.3: 481–506.

Scruton, R. 1994b. Modern Philosophy: An Introduction and Survey. Penguin Books, London.

Searle, John. 1977. “Reiterating the Differences: Reply to Derrida,” Glyph 1: 198–208.

Searle, John. 1983. “The Word Turned Upside Down,” The New York Review of Books (27 October): 74–79.

Taylor, Victor E. and Charles E. Winquist. 2001. Encyclopedia of Postmodernism. Routledge, London and New York.